February 08, 2021

Christopher Plummer's Last Station



Christopher Plummer's Last Station
Christopher Plummer, we raise a podstakannik to you. Flickr user yolandajabonillo

Sound of Music star Christopher Plummer died last week at 91, and he did not pass unnoticed in Russia. After all, the Canadian actor played one of Russia's best-known novelists, Lev (Leo) Tolstoy, in The Last Station, a German-Russian-British collaboration called The Last Sunday in Russian (Poslednee voskresenie). Tolstoy indeed died on a Sunday – November 7, 1910, on the old calendar. The Russian word for Sunday also means revival or resurrection.

Don't watch The Last Station with your spouse if your marriage is on the rocks; it is a brutal picture of a marriage with no trust left. Only the 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure might be a more awkward choice for date night with an estranged spouse.

Helen Mirren played Tolstoy's wife, Sofya, dramatically capturing a dependent who is about to lose her rights to her husband's complete writings right before his death. The first Tolstoyan, Tolstoy promoted vegetarianism, celibacy even within marriage, and taking nobles like himself down a peg, and he wanted the rights to his work to belong to "the people." Sofya wholeheartedly disagreed with the principles of Tolstoyanism – including that little bit about marriage.

In the film, Plummer as Tolstoy escapes his wife by train, leaving his lifelong estate of Yasnaya Polyana (near Tula) forever and dying at Astapovo Station to the south at age 82.

The film has a few tender moments, like when Mirren as Tolstaya declares: "I am the work of your life, you are the work of mine. That's what love is." But otherwise, it is an emotional slog. One Russian article calls the film a "marathon of love."

If you have the energy for an emotional marathon, you can scratch your Christopher Plummer and Russia itches at the same time and check out The Last Station. And don't forget that all of this was based on a very fine book, by the Vermont author Jay Parini.

Lev Tolstoy's Unhappy Family
  • January 01, 2010

Lev Tolstoy's Unhappy Family

Lev Tolstoy's family was unhappy in its own peculiar way, split by a three-decade-long disagreement between the writer and his wife about money.
Cooking With Sofia
  • September 01, 2017

Cooking With Sofia

A great writer lives on his stomach. And Sofia Tolstoya had a way in the kitchen.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors
  • September 01, 2009

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
Movie: The Last Station

Movie: The Last Station

New movie based on Jay Parini's fine book on Tolstoy's final days and the familial disorder. Just released in Dec. 2009.
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The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
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Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.
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Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
Marooned in Moscow

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This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
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Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
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